Tell me again why the Japanese baseball player is so great…

December 15, 2011 | Drew Forrester

Can someone please explain to me why baseball people in North America are infatuated with Japanese baseball players?

I’m in need of an answer — the right one, please — because I simply don’t get it.

The Orioles have added a Japanese left-handed pitcher, Tsoyushi Wada, and for reasons I can’t quite figure out, we’re supposed to be going ga-ga over his signing.

So I need someone to explain it all to me…given the barely-serviceable overall track record of Japanese players in the U.S., please tell me why it’s such a big deal for the Orioles to snag this soon-to-be-32-year-old who more closely resembles a slimmer version of Bruce Chen.

Joe Saunders was available — actually, he still is, as I write this.  Why wouldn’t the Orioles give him the $13 or $14 million over two years that you’d probably have to throw his way to get Saunders to sign on in Baltimore?  He’s 31.  He can pitch.  His numbers have just about always been league average or better.  When the Diamondbacks non-tendered him earlier this week, I assumed the Orioles would be interested in him.  He’s not Mark Hendrickson, a familiar name from off-season’s past.  He isn’t Adam Eaton.  Saunders has put up some credible major league numbers.

I know one of the reasons why they preferred Wada.  He’s cheaper.  He comes to Charm City an at overall salary exposure of just over $8 million for two years.  Saunders wouldn’t quite cost them $8 million per-year, but it would be in that range.

So to answer my own question, the Orioles like Wada in part because he’s less expensive than a proven major league pitcher.

That’s sad…but true.

Orioles GM Dan Duquette has promised folks around town he’s going to be aggressive in the international market.  I don’t think anyone feels as if that’s a bad move.  The international player-market has been percolating for a dozen years or so and the Orioles have languished behind nearly every other franchise in scouting, development and signings.

But part of that dedication to the international market is rooted in the scouting phase, which obviously ISN’T something that’s part of the fondness for the Japanese player.  The Orioles didn’t really “scout” Wada.  They heard about him like every other team in the big leagues did and they went and checked him out.  Then, they signed him.  Scouting Japanese players, to me, would mean being over there and seeing these kids at 18, 19, 20 years old, and taking them OUT of Japan at that point and bringing them to the U.S. to go through the entire minor league process on American soil.

So why, then, would the Orioles take Wada over Saunders?  A Japanese player with NO experience in the big leagues over an American player with 161 career starts over 7 seasons.

It’s not as if every other Japanese player to come over here has excelled.  If, in fact, it turned out to be “one-good, one-bad, one-good, one-bad”, you’d perhaps understand the gamble a bit more.

Here’s a quick laundry list of players who once played in the Nippon Professional league in Japan — Iguchi, Johjima, Fukudome, Hasegawa, Saito, Matsui (Kaz), Suzuki, Nomo, Kuroda and Matsui (Hideki).  According to a Japanese baseball site, these are the 10 best players who have ever left Japan (please see next page)